Retired Pope Benedict says it was his 'duty' to resign from papacy

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Retired Pope Benedict XVI said in an interview that he
felt a “duty” to resign from the papacy because of his declining
health and the rigorous demands of papal travel.

While his heart was set on completing the Year of Faith, the
retired pope told Italian journalist Elio Guerriero that after his visit to
Mexico and Cuba in March 2012, he felt he was “incapable of
fulfilling” the demands of another international trip, especially with
World Youth Day 2013 scheduled for Brazil.

“With the program set out by John Paul II for these
(World Youth) days, the physical presence of the pope was indispensable,” he told
Guerriero in an interview, which is included in the journalist’s upcoming
biography of Pope Benedict. “This, too, was a circumstance which made my
resignation a duty,” the pope said.

An excerpt of Guerriero’s book, “Servant of God and Humanity: The Biography of Benedict
XVI,” was published Aug. 24 in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica.

Pope Benedict said that although he was moved by the
“profound faith” of the people of Mexico and Cuba, it was during his
visit to the two countries in 2012 that he “experienced very strongly the limits of my
physical endurance.”

Among the problems with committing to the grueling schedule
of an international trip was the change in time zones. Upon consulting with his
doctor, he said, it became clear “that I would never be able to take part
in the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.”

“From that day, I had to decide in a relatively short
time the date of my retirement,” he said.

Guerriero noted that while many believed the pope’s
retirement was a defeat for the church, Pope Benedict continues to seem “calm and
confident.” The retired pope said he “completely agreed” with
the journalist’s observation.

“I would have been truly worried if I was not convinced
— as I had said in the beginning of my pontificate — of being a simple and
humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard,” he said.

retired pope added that while he was aware of his limitations, he
accepted his election in 2005 “in a spirit of obedience” and that
despite the difficult moments, there were also “many graces.”

“I realized that everything I had to do I could not do
on my own and so I was almost obliged to put myself in God’s hands, to trust in
Jesus who — while I wrote my book on him — I felt bound to by an old and more
profound friendship,” he said.

The retired pontiff spends his days in prayer and
contemplation while residing at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City. For 19 years, different contemplative orders
took turns living in the monastery with a mission focused on praying for the
pope and the church.

Benedict said that
upon learning that the Visitandine
nuns would be leaving the residence, he realized “almost naturally that
this would be the place where I could retire in order to continue in my own way
the service of prayer of which John Paul II had intended for this house.”

Among the visitors
Pope Benedict receives is Pope Francis, who “never fails to visit me
before embarking on a long trip,” he said.

Asked about his personal
relationship with his successor, Pope Benedict said they shared a
“wonderfully paternal-fraternal relationship” and he has been profoundly
touched by his “extraordinarily human availability.”

“I often
receive small gifts, personally written letters” from Pope Francis, he said. “The
human kindness with which he treats me is a particular grace of this last phase
of my life for which
I can only be grateful.
What he says about being open toward other men and women is not just words. He
puts it into practice with me.”

Pope Francis, who
wrote the book’s preface, expressed his admiration for the retired pope and said his spiritual bond
with his predecessor “remains particularly profound.”

“In all my
meetings with him, I have
been able to experience not only reverence and obedience, but also
friendly spiritual closeness, the joy of praying together, sincere brotherhood,
understanding and friendship, and also his availability for advice,” Pope Francis

The church’s mission
of proclaiming the merciful love of God for the world, he added, has and
continues to be exemplified in the life of Pope Benedict.

“The whole life
of thought and the works
of Joseph Ratzinger have
focused on this purpose and — in the same direction, with the help of God — I
strive to continue,” Pope Francis wrote.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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